Building agroecological markets to support farmer livelihoods

Despite their proximity to the country’s capital and its large market of wealthier consumers, farmers in Mashonaland East Province, Zimbabwe, struggled to produce enough to meet their own households’ needs for food and income.

A project led by GardenAfrica, Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre, and Zimbabwe Organic Producers & Promoters Association aimed to address these problems through innovative marketing that promoted agroecological farming.

The initiative illustrates the process of creating agroecological markets and the positive outcomes they can provide to farmers. 

Restoring ecosystems for farming

Over 1,000 farmers learned how to better manage their farmland and natural resources using an agroecological approach. Farmers participated in farmer exchanges to learn community-based natural resource and watershed management. These skills were necessary, since agroecological vegetable production required greater water use than the field crops typically produced, and created potential conflict over scarce water resources.

Figure 1. A farmer’s intercropped field in Shashe, a village in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe, which is becoming a school for agroecology, knowledge exchange and emancipation
Figure 1. A farmer’s intercropped field in Shashe, a village in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe, which is becoming a school for agroecology, knowledge exchange and emancipation

The practices implemented for enhanced water management were dryland cropping, soil conservation and management, and creating tanks for water storage.

Different agroecological practices such as improved crop rotations, companion planting and intercropping served to improve soil management, and integrated pest management dealt with the pests that target horticultural crops.

Finally, farm-level diversification was achieved through livestock integration and crop diversification with horticultural crops.

Inclusive markets for agroecology

Farmers trained in association building successfully organized themselves into producer associations to grow agroecological and organic certified horticultural products.

Exchanges between the associations and village leaders garnered support for farmers’ agroecological approach; this support secured associations’ access to communal land for market gardens.

Figure 2. Farmers use prepared livestock manure to fertilise fields and gardens
Figure 2. Farmers use prepared livestock manure to fertilise fields and gardens

Organic certification through organic standards development and training was a key avenue through which the project hoped to improve farmers’ earnings.

Market research has shown existing consumer demand for organic products, in particular for diverse vegetables. Organic producers were only meeting 10% of consumers’ demand for organic produce.

In this frame, a Participatory Guarantee Scheme was encouraged, where farmers trained in organic standards enforce these standards with their peers. Farmers are able to sell a product that adheres to criteria for organic farming and avoid the high cost of certification associated with external certifiers.

Farmers also learned other skills to diversify their income sources, such as value addition of crops, wild harvesting, and organic honey production.

OUTCOMES

The farmers’ usage of agroecological practices have shown how they supported farmers’ incomes and livelihoods.

The initiative successfully improved farm crop diversity, yields, and incomes of participating farmers.

Figure 3. Farmers process vegetables by drying them to store for sale and consumption out of season, Photo credit: GardenAfrica
Figure 3. Farmers process vegetables by drying them to store for sale and consumption out of season, Photo credit: GardenAfrica

For the 591 farmers included in the project:

  • Agrobiodiversity increased by 122%
  • Yields increased by 72%
  • Incomes increased by up to 90%

After seeing this success, more farmers received training on agroecological practices and marketing, and formed 12 more associations to produce organic horticultural products, certified through the Participatory Guarantee Scheme.

This second group of associations experienced similar benefits:

  • Yields increased by 290%
  • Incomes increased by 265%
  • 196 hectares of land under certified organic production

Growing benefits

8,000 more farmers in different parts in Zimbabwe, organized into 10 associations, joined the certification initiative adding over 440 hectares to the land under agroecological production at country level.

The market demand for organic produce can be seen here as a key driver. Supported was this strongly by exchange of knowledge and skills among farmers and from trainings regarding agroecological practices as well as for the marketing through the Participatory Guarantee Scheme.

Figure 4. More members are joining farmers’ associations in the hopes of benefiting from organically-certified production
Figure 4. More members are joining farmers’ associations in the hopes of benefiting from organically-certified production

References